Have you ever wonder what happens after the lawsuit is filed? Your case will proceed as follows:
First, your lawyer will continue to investigate and research your case. Depending upon the requirements of the case, your lawyer may be assisted by professional investigators, research assistants, and expert consultants. This investigation and research often take weeks or even months.
Discovery is the information-gathering stage of the lawsuit. Broadly speaking, discovery in personal injury cases generally involves: (1) interrogatories, (2) requests for admission, (3) requests for document production, and (4) depositions.
Interrogatories are written questions intended to extract information from a party about the case. The party’s answers to the interrogatories are provided in a written response given under oath.
Requests for admission are requests for a party to acknowledge or deny certain facts pertaining to the case. They carry with them penalties for not answering, for answering falsely, or even answering late. Requests for admission are generally only used to establish basic facts. Once a party responds, it eliminates the need for any further discovery on that issue.
Requests for production are demands for copies of documents and other items that the party making the request intends to rely on to support his claims. This may include things such as accident reports, bills, receipts, invoices, inventory reports, business records, or anything else relevant to the case. Requests for production are used extensively in personal injury cases.
Depositions are in-person question-and-answer sessions involving the lawyer for one party and a witness for the other party. A court reporter usually is present to create a verbatim transcript of the testimony, and the witness is placed under oath before the questioning begins. Depending on the complexity of the case (as well as other factors such as the lawyer’s questioning style, the witness’ temperament, language barriers, etc.), depositions may be very short in duration or may take several days to complete. Sometimes the lawyers may agree to conduct the depositions of all parties on the same day, while in other situations the sessions may be broken up into parts. Regardless of their particular format, depositions are usually the most important part of the discovery process because of how profoundly they can impact the relative strength of a party’s case. For instance, if a personal injury plaintiff presents herself very well during a deposition and comes across as a strong, convincing witness with legitimate bodily injury claims, opposing counsel may be more inclined to settle rather than proceed to trial. On the other hand, if the plaintiff’s testimony is riddled with inconsistencies, vagueness, and unclear responses, it may be a sign of a weak case. When your lawyers receive a discovery request from the opposing party, they will need your help in responding promptly. When your deposition is requested, your lawyer will contact you to arrange scheduling the deposition and to arrange a meeting to help you prepare for your deposition. When the other side sends a discovery request that requires a written response, your lawyers will contact you immediately and give you specific instructions about what to do. Your role will include providing your lawyers with the information or documents necessary to truthfully respond to the request. Your lawyers will also ask you to call and schedule an appointment to go to their office before your response is filed.
Third, as discovery winds down and the trial date approaches, your lawyer and the defense lawyer will file motions (formal written requests) with the court to try to limit the issues for trial. One type of motion commonly filed in personal injury cases are motions to bifurcate. It is common for the defendant in a large injury case to file a motion to bifurcate liability from damages. Basically, this is a request to try the case in two phases – first, liability (to determine who is at fault), then damages (if the defendant is at fault, how much compensation is the plaintiff owed).
The final phase of the case is trial. In a trial, a jury or judge examines the evidence to decide whether the defendant should be held legally responsible for the injuries suffered by the plaintiff. The trial provides the plaintiff the opportunity to present his or her case in the hopes of obtaining a judgment against the defendant. The trial also gives the defendant a chance to refute the plaintiff’s case. A full personal injury trial consists of several phases, including jury selection, opening statements, direct and cross-examination of witnesses, closing arguments, jury instructions, jury deliberations, and the verdict. The majority of personal injury cases are settled long before trial.
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